Michael Hutchison is savvy when it comes to opportunity. With
the economy gasping, affordable housing lacking and infrastructure emerging as
something of a defibrillator, the developer has zeroed in on a unique proposal
for low income rental housing in Squamish, a town with precious little.
As president of Bethel Lands Corporation, Hutchison makes it
his business to build. But construction starts are down, financing is tricky
and jobs are on the line. Still, there are safety mechanisms on offer, and
yanking those levers will require a robust partnership between government and
the private sector, something Hutchison is eager to create.
His vision unfolds on Government Road. It calls for purpose
built rental housing, with Sea to Sky Community Services acting as landlord for
people with low incomes. The units would be 700 square feet, boasting two
bedrooms and standardized features, whether appliances, tubs or kitchens, which
makes replacing and manufacturing more cost efficient.
“The buildings are designed so we can control the cost of
construction,” he said. “Every nail — they’re the same.”
The province offers funding through B.C. Housing, but the
partnership has to be strong.
“If it’s a fractured approach, they just turn around and put
their money somewhere else,” he told council. “If it doesn’t have your
enthusiastic support, it won’t fly.”
Like all partnerships, this one requires a bit of sacrifice. To
make it financially viable, the district will have to wave development cost
charges (DCCs), while trades need to drop their rates. According to Hutchison,
the latter sacrifice has been made to the tune of 30 per cent. Council,
meanwhile, expressed the sort of enthusiasm Hutchison was after.
“I’ve been an advocate of the private sector to partner up and
try and build low income housing. If someone doesn’t grab these funds that are
available, some other community will.”
If all goes according to plan, the first building could be up
by January 2010. Further, Hutchison’s calculations promise approximately $8
million in local economic stimulation.
Hutchison has brought this idea to the district before. He
filed notice to appear papers in November and gave a presentation to the last
council. They offered their support conditional on public support. Director of
Planning Cameron Chalmers has since met with Hutchison to discuss deferring
“At this point, there doesn’t seem to be anything precluding
it,” he said. “There are provisions in the legislation to wave development cost
charges in certain cases.”
With council support in place, Hutchison expects to hear from the province next month.